Actress, director, producer and writer Jackie Taylor founded the Black Ensemble Theatre (BE) in 1976 in order to counter the pervasive negative imagery of Blacks by promoting diverse aspects of Black life. Since 2011, the Black Ensemble Theater has been housed within its first permanent home, the newly-constructed, $20 million Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center at 4450 N. Clark Street!
Located in the bustling of bustling Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, the mission of BE, as per its website, is to “eradicate racism and its damaging effects upon our society through the utilization of theater arts. BE is the only theater in the nation whose mission is to eradicate racism. We utilize theater and educational outreach programs to bring races together in a community which embraces similarities and fosters dialogue, understanding and acceptance.”
Serving in various capacities, including as CEO, Taylor’s vision has received much praise and accolades. With the development of the Black Ensemble Theater, she, according to theater’s website, “created a strong institution committed to eradicating racism. BE is recognized throughout the nation for its outstanding original productions and exceptional educational outreach programs.”
Discussing in her biography at website that the first theater space she had was at Club Misty, Jackie Taylor shared she later operated in an unnamed theater space on Wells Avenue. Since, the Black Ensemble Theater had been primarily located at 4520 Beacon Street until 2011.
The BE has grown from a local arts organization to being a premier, internationally-acclaimed arts institution. As its site celebrates, the Black Ensemble Theater is “a leader and innovator in the African-American and mainstream arts communities … [and] is recognized as one of the most diverse theaters in the country, producing excellent musical theater.” As a complete theater, it holds workshops and auditions as well as has opportunities for careers, volunteerism and community cultural engagement.
Taylor has created for the Black Ensemble Theater more than one-hundred works, including All in Love is Fair, The Other Cinderella and Somebody Say Amen. She also brought to stage musical biographies on prominent African-Americans including The Marvin Gay Story; Don’t Shed a Tear: The Billie Holiday Story; At Last: A Tribute to Etta James; and The Jackie Wilson Story. Also a celebrated educator, Jackie Taylor naturally incorporated learning activities to further her mission. Accordingly, the educational outreach initiatives of the Black Ensemble Theater, as per its website, are:
- Plays With A Purpose is a series of interactive musical plays designed to teach elementary and high school students positive life lessons and values. Teachers are provided with workbooks and activities to reinforce the lessons taught in plays. Productions are seen each year at the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center.
- New Directions serves teenagers interested in the arts. The program is structured to assist them in their transition into adulthood and independence. New Directions uses theater arts to help develop self-esteem, self-respect, and work skills. This program also enhances survival skills and helps the young participants to prepare for self-sufficiency through job readiness.
- The Black Playwrights Initiative (BPI) was created in 2005 by Jackie Taylor, Founder and Executive Director of the Black Ensemble Theater. In explaining why the BPI was formulated Ms. Taylor stated, ‘Chicago has a rich and fertile community of African American Playwrights. There was a need for an organization that focused specifically on these artists as it related to their unique cultural heritage. The BPI is a vehicle that brings us together as a community to share resources and nourish our skills. It is the purpose of the BPI to develop scripts for the Black Ensemble Theater. It is also the purpose of the BPI to increase local and national exposure for our membership.’ The BPI also provides training, technological resources and advancement opportunities for Chicago’s African American Playwrights Community.
- SSTTA is an in-school program that serves students and teachers in inner-city elementary and high schools through training in the theatre arts.
This program is designed to:
Enhance learning, cognitive and social skill development of students in the Chicago Public Schools.
Equip teachers with strategies to improve classroom management
Empower teachers to teach curriculum through theatre arts
- Summer Job Training for Youth is an 8-week program designed to increase the employment capabilities of inner-city youth ages 16-21 equipping them with skills that will enable them to have a career in the technical theater arts. Student employees are also trained in job search skills, including resume development, interviewing skills and other necessary competencies to successfully obtain employment.
Explore areas of theater production including; set design and construction, lighting, costume design and stage management.
Create, produce and market their own script to be performed on the stage of the Black Ensemble Theater.
Perform, and film an on-camera project which will be featured in the culminating show.
This summer training program was made possible by the support of the Alphawood Foundation, Boeing, Caerus Foundation, Illinois Arts Council, Ivanhoe Theater Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Leo S. Guthman Foundation and the Shirley & David Sykes Family Foundation. Since its inception five years ago, this seasonal internship has serviced seventy-two young adults.
Because the Black Ensemble Theater seeks to share its work with as many people as possible, there are discounted opportunities available. There is a group rate discount available for parties of ten or more. Honoring Blue Star guests, they offer half-price tickets for those who are members of the U.S. military, veterans and first responders.
Also the BE has two initiatives, Teen Arts Pass (TAP) and 30 Under 30, for those often not privy to engage in a world-class theater experience. TAP, a program in collaboration with Urban Gateways, supports teenagers, 13-19. Those who participate in TAP may access $5 tickets on the day of select performances. For the 30 Under 30 program, a guest who is thirty years old or younger may purchase, with valid ID, a ticket for a performance for only $30.